D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild President, Owen Thomson, holds up to the crowd a rectangular can the size of a deck of cards. A grin spills across his face. Thomson is about to reveal the next ingredient for the contest.
“Smoked sardines,” he says. The crowd collectively cringes.
That’s the kind of curveballs participants faced at last Sunday afternoon’s Negroni Throwdown at The Gibson. The winner, Chris Martino of Barrel, faced strong competition. In the end, he emerged the champion winning a bartending spot at this year’s Repeal Day Ball and all the shit-talking privileges thereto appertaining.
E.J. Apaga of Pearl Dive, Dave Lanzalone of Iron Gate and Julien Bourgon of TNT each fell to Martino despite the various obstacles thrown his way. Apaga certainly gave the crowd their “money’s worth” (the event was free) in the Ramos Gin Fizz round when he opened a fully charged soda syphon sending streams of cream, egg whites and gin into the air.
Jack Rose bartender and Tiki Throwdown winner, Justin Hampton, judged the final products. The barman sampled each cocktail, looking pleased with some and wincing a little from others. Guild members Jamie McBain and Jo-Jo Valenzuela hosted the show. Valenzuela pulled the event together with sponsorship from Plymouth and Beefeater.
Each contestant went through a vigorous competition structured similarly to Cutthroat Kitchen. The Throwdown’s contestants used poker chips to bid on various sabotages against one another. One participant was handicapped by having no ice for his cocktail while another was denied use of his arm and a leg.
The back patio of the RAMMY nominated bar served as a serene setting for the raucous competition. Audience members filled up on bar-b-que ribs, sliders and mushroom fritters while sloshing around frozen “Negronis and Cream” cocktails spun by Gibson general manager, Frank Jones.
When the jigger was eliminated from Bourgon’s use, he could be seen swiftly dumping spoonfuls of spirit into his mixing glass as time ticked away. Lanzalone made use of a reusable, refrigerated ice pack to chill down his drink since he was handicapped with no ice. No one was safe from the crippling obstacles thrown at them at the event.
Apaga dove right into the smoked sardines. He muddled a poor little fish into the concoction and scooped fingerfuls of oily red sauce out of the can and into his shaker. When asked what his bloody mary-like, sardine cocktail was called, Apaga smiled.